Gynocentrism n. (Greek, γυνή, “female” – Latin centrum, “centred” ) refers to a dominant or exclusive focus on women in theory or practice; or to the advocacy of this.1 Anything can be considered gynocentric (Adj.) when it is concerned exclusively with a female (or specifically a feminist) point of view.2
Cultural gynocentrism arose in Medieval Europe during a period cross-cultural influences and momentous changes in gendered customs. Beginning in around the 12th century European society birthed an intersection of Arabic practices of female worship, aristocratic courting trends, the Marian cult, along with the imperial patronage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter Marie De Champagne who together crafted the military notion of chivalry into a notion of servicing ladies, a practice otherwise known as ‘courtly love.’
Courtly love was enacted by minstrels, playrights and troubadours, and especially via hired romance-writers like Chrétien de Troyes and Andreas Capellanus who laid down a model of romantic fiction that is still the biggest grossing genre of literature today. That confluence of factors generated the cultural conventions that continue to drive gynocentrism today.
Gynocentrism as a cultural phenomenon
The primary elements of gynocentric culture, as we experience it today, are derived from practices originating in medieval society such as feudalism, chivalry and courtly love that continue to inform contemporary society in subtle ways. Such gynocentric patters constitute a “sexual feudalism,” as attested by female writers like Lucrezia Marinella who in 1600 AD recounted that women of lower socioeconomic classes were treated as superiors by men who acted as servants or beasts born to serve them, or by Modesta Pozzo who in 1590 wrote;
“don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us — they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.”3
The golden casket above depicting scenes of servile behaviour toward women were typical of courtly love culture of the Middle Ages. Such objects were given to women as gifts by men seeking to impress. Note the woman standing with hands on hips in a position of authority, and the man being led around by a neck halter, his hands clasped in a position of subservience.
It’s clear that much of what we today call gynocentrism was invented in the Middle Ages with the cultural practices of romantic chivalry and courtly love. In 12th century Europe, feudalism served as the basis for a new model for love in which men were to play the role of vassal to women who played the role of an idealized Lord.
C.S. Lewis, back in the middle of the 20th Century, referred to this historical revolution as “the feudalisation of love,” and stated that it has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched. “Compared with this revolution,” states Lewis, “the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature.”4 Lewis further states;
“Everyone has heard of courtly love, and everyone knows it appeared quite suddenly at the end of the eleventh century at Languedoc. The sentiment, of course, is love, but love of a highly specialized sort, whose characteristics may be enumerated as Humility, Courtesy, and the Religion of Love. The lover is always abject. Obedience to his lady’s lightest wish, however whimsical, and silent acquiescence in her rebukes, however unjust, are the only virtues he dares to claim. Here is a service of love closely modelled on the service which a feudal vassal owes to his lord. The lover is the lady’s ‘man’. He addresses her as midons, which etymologically represents not ‘my lady’ but ‘my lord’. The whole attitude has been rightly described as ‘a feudalisation of love’. This solemn amatory ritual is felt to be part and parcel of the courtly life.” 5
With the advent of (initially courtly) women being elevated to the position of ‘Lord’ in intimate relationships, and with this general sentiment diffusing to the masses and across much of the world today, we are justified in talking of a gynocentric cultural complex that affects, among other things, relationships between men and women. Further, unless evidence of widespread gynocentric culture can be found prior to the Middle Ages, then gynocentrism is precisely 800 years old. In order to determine if this thesis is valid we need to look further at what we mean by “gynocentrism”.
The term gynocentrism has been in circulation since the 1800’s, with the general definition being “focused on women; concerned with only women.”6 From this definition we see that gynocentrism could refer to any female-centered practice, or to a single gynocentric act carried out by one individual. There is nothing inherently wrong with a gynocentric act (eg. celebrating Mother’s Day) , or for that matter an androcentric act (celebrating Father’s Day). However when a given act becomes instituted in the culture to the exclusion of other acts we are then dealing with a hegemonic custom — i.e. such is the relationship custom of elevating women to the position of men’s social, moral or spiritual superiors.
Author of Gynocentrism Theory Adam Kostakis has attempted to expand the definition of gynocentrism to refer to “male sacrifice for the benefit of women” and “the deference of men to women,” and he concludes; “Gynocentrism, whether it went by the name honor, nobility, chivalry, or feminism, its essence has gone unchanged. It remains a peculiarly male duty to help the women onto the lifeboats, while the men themselves face a certain and icy death.”7
While we can agree with Kostakis’ descriptions of assumed male duty, the phrase gynocentric culture more accurately carries his intention than gynocentrism alone. Thus when used alone in the context of this website gynocentrism refers to part or all of gynocentric culture, which is defined here as any culture instituting rules for gender relationships that benefit females at the expense of males across a broad range of measures.
At the base of gynocentric culture lies the practice of enforced male sacrifice for the benefit of women. If we accept this definition we must look back and ask whether male sacrifices throughout history were always made for the sake women, or alternatively for the sake of some other primary goal? For instance, when men went to die in vast numbers in wars, was it for women, or was it rather for Man, King, God and Country? If the latter we cannot then claim that this was a result of some intentional gynocentric culture, at least not in the way I have defined it here. If the sacrifice isn’t intended directly for the benefit women, even if women were occasional beneficiaries of male sacrifice, then we are not dealing with gynocentric culture.
Male utility and disposability strictly “for the benefit of women” comes in strongly only after the advent of the 12th century gender revolution in Europe – a revolution that delivered us terms like gallantry, chivalry, chivalric love, courtesy, damsels, romance and so on. From that period onward gynocentric practices grew exponentially, culminating in the demands of today’s feminist movement. In sum, gynocentrism (ie. gynocentric culture) was a patchy phenomenon at best before the middle ages, after which it became ubiquitous.
With this in mind it makes little sense to talk of gynocentric culture starting with the industrial revolution a mere 200 years ago (or 100 or even 30 yrs ago), or of it being two million years old as some would argue. We are not only fighting two million years of genetic programming; our culturally constructed problem of gender inequity is much simpler to pinpoint and to potentially reverse. All we need do is look at the circumstances under which gynocentric culture first began to flourish and attempt to reverse those circumstances. Specifically, that means rejecting the illusions of romantic love (feudalised love), along with the practices of misandry, male shaming and servitude that ultimately support it.
La Querelle des Femmes, and advocacy for women
The Querelle des Femmes translates as the “quarrel about women” and amounts to what we might today call a gender-war. The querelle had its beginning in twelfth century Europe and finds its culmination in the feminist-driven ideology of today (though some authors claim, unconvincingly, that the querelle came to an end in the 1700s). The basic theme of the centuries-long quarrel revolved, and continues to revolve, around advocacy for the rights, power and status of women, and thus Querelle des Femmes serves as the originating title for gynocentric discourse.
To place the above events into a coherent timeline, chivalric servitude toward women was elaborated and given patronage first under the reign of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1137-1152) and instituted culturally throughout Europe over the subsequent 200 year period. After becoming thus entrenched on European soil there arose the Querelle des Femmes which refers to the advocacy culture that arose for protecting, perpetuating and increasing female power in relation to men that continues, in an unbroken tradition, in the efforts of contemporary feminism.8
Writings from the Middle Ages forward are full of testaments about men attempting to adapt to the feudalisation of love and the serving of women, along with the emotional agony, shame and sometimes physical violence they suffered in the process. Gynocentric chivalry and the associated querelle have not received much elaboration in men’s studies courses to-date, but with the emergence of new manuscripts and quality English translations it may be profitable to begin blazing this trail.9
1. Oxford English Dictionary – Vers.4.0 (2009), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199563838
2. Oxford English Dictionary 2010
3. Modesta Pozzo, The Worth of Women: their Nobility and Superiority to Men
4. C.S. Lewis, Friendship, chapter in The Four Loves, HarperCollins, 1960
5. C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, Oxford University Press, 1936
6. Dictionary.com – Gynocentric
7. Adam Kostakis, Gynocentrism Theory – (Published online, 2011). Although Kostakis assumes gynocentrism has been around throughout recorded history, he singles out the Middle Ages for comment: “There is an enormous amount of continuity between the chivalric class code which arose in the Middle Ages and modern feminism… One could say that they are the same entity, which now exists in a more mature form – certainly, we are not dealing with two separate creatures.”
8. Joan Kelly, Early Feminist Theory and the Querelle des Femmes (1982), reprinted in Women, History and Theory, UCP (1984)
9. The New Male Studies Journal has published thoughtful articles touching on the history and influence of chivalry in the lives of males.
I hope this chapter from The Plural Psyche of 1989 will still be of interest. It is, on one level, a critique of gender essentialism in the Jungian community and in its theorizing. As such, students of analytical psychology and Jungian Studies could well be interested. They should note that the chapter was very controversial in its time and led to attempts to claim that I was not a real Jungian because I had abandoned the interior perspective in which ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine were exclusively metaphorical matters.
In addition, the chapter was my first attempt to sketch out a contemporary variant of animus-anima theory that led to a subsequent suggestion that the theory was useful in underpinning an approach to gendered behaviour that greatly extends what we understand as male/masculine or female/feminine behavior for men and women. In this sense, Jung’s antiquated gender theory gets given new legs. (Written in September 2013.)
In this chapter, I look at developments in analytical psychology concerning gender identity, gender characteristics, and gender role. This is set against the background of a general debate about the psychology of sex and gender and the question of sex-based psychology. As in [all my work], the linkage between gender certainty and gender confusion is a central concern, as is the tracking of fluidity, flexibility, and a pluralistic ethos in connection with gender.
THE GENDER DEBATE
Some questions: are men innately more aggressive than women? Does that explain their social and political dominance? Is there such a thing as innately ‘masculine’ or innately ‘feminine’ psychology?
In his book Archetype: a Natural History of the Self, Anthony Stevens drew on the work of the sociobiologists Wilson and Goldberg to reach the conclusion that ‘male dominance is a manifestation of the “psychophysiological reality” of our species. In addition [there is] genetic and neurophysiological evidence relating to the biology of sexual differentiation. . . . Patriarchy, it seems is the natural condition of mankind’ (Stevens 1982: 188–92).
In Jung and the Post-Jungians, I drew on the work of Janet Sayers to critique Stevens’s position (Samuels 1985a: 220–2). Sayers felt that those opposed to changes in women’s role had appropriated biology to their cause and she demolished the sociobiological case in a witty and learned way. For instance, Wilson quoted studies that showed that boys were consistently more able than girls at mathematics but that girls have a higher degree of verbal ability. And boys are, in Wilson’s view, more aggressive in social play. From these bases, Wilson concluded that ‘even with identical education and equal access to all professions men are likely to continue to play a disproportionate role in political life, business and science’ (quoted in Sayers 1982: 77). She wryly remarks that it is hard to see how males’ lesser verbal ability leads to their being better fitted for political life. Surely, if biology really does determine social role, it should be the other way round?
Recently I came across the work of another academic psychologist, Gerda Siann (1985). She comprehensively surveyed the various research findings that purport to link aggression to the male hormones. She concluded that ‘no specific areas in the brain or nervous system have been pinpointed as controlling aggression’ and that an overview of the repeated studies shows that androgenized girls do not seem more aggressive than their peers, siblings, or mothers. Overandrogenized males do not display noteworthy dominance, assertion, or aggression in spite of the fact that their greater size would guarantee victory (they seem to be rather gentle people). What is more, Siann’s careful reading of the research findings shows that castration has no effect on the overall aggressive behaviour of sex offenders, save in relation to actual sexual behaviour. Finally, plasma testosterone levels do not seem to relate directly to aggressive behaviour. Siann’s overall conclusion was:
the evidence does not show any clear and unambiguous relationship between male hormones and the propensity to display violent behaviour or feel aggressive emotion. Indeed the likelihood of such a simple unidirectional relationship has been thrown into doubt by two additional lines of investigation. The first shows that the secretion of male hormones is itself directly affected by environmental and social variables, and the second is concerned with the speculation that female hormones may also be implicated in violent behaviour and aggressive emotion.
(Siann 1985: 37)
To sustain Stevens’s sociobiological viewpoint, female aggression has to be overlooked or minimized. What is more, there is a confusion between ‘aggression’ and ‘dominance’. Not all human dominance depends on aggression. We have to explain phenomena such as altruistic or self-sacrificing behaviour, conscience, the checks placed on the power of a leader, human capacity for collective decision-making, and so forth.
What follows is a discussion of the third question with which we started this section: are there such things as innate ‘masculine’ and, more pertinently perhaps, innate ‘feminine’ psychologies? If there are, then there could be a noncorporeal innate factor in aggression.
BEYOND THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE
It is hard to write flexibly and fluidly about what is flexible and fluid. The danger when trying to reflect on our current preoccupation with gender is that we might become too clear and too organized – a reaction formation to the inevitable anxiety (and guilt) we experience at finding that what we thought was solid and fixed is perforated and shifting. Humanity is not just divided into women and men but also into those who are certain about gender and those who are confused about gender. As we have seen, getting the balance between gender certainty and gender confusion is a hard task. Clinically, we see the negative effects of an excess of either position and working with individual patients in the area of gender identity is a kind of research work before moving on to the collective stage and a wider scale.
For gender confusions have as important a role to play as gender certainties. They contribute something imaginative to social and political reform and change. I refer to ‘confusion’ and not to something that sounds more laudable like ‘flexibility’ because, experientially, that is precisely what it is, no bones about it. Not for the first time in psychology, we can fashion the strengths out of an apparent weakness. To do this, I have found that I have had to learn from women about what they have been through.
Does use of the word confusion not imply the possibility of definition and clarity concerning gender? The way I use the word ‘certainty’ in relation to gender is intended to suggest that, while clear definition is theoretically possible, it is, for the most part, illusory and/or problematic.
In order to discuss the subject at all, the distinction between sex and gender should be noted, allowing for some overlap as well. Sex (male and female) refers to anatomy and the biological substrate to behaviour, to the extent that there is one. Gender (masculine and feminine) is a cultural or psychological term, arising in part from observations and identifications within the family, hence relative and flexible, and capable of sustaining change. Now, in some approaches, particularly in analytical psychology, what can happen is that a form of determinism creeps in and the invariant nature of gender is assumed, just as if gender characteristics and qualities were as fixed as sexual ones. The history of women shows that change is possible just because the social meaning of womanhood is malleable. But when this is ignored, as by Stevens, the possibilities of change, other than as part of ordinary maturation and individuation, are lost.
Is there such a thing as a ‘feminine psychology’? I’ll begin with a general discussion, then consider whether there is a feminine psychology that applies to women. In a moment, I’ll look at the ‘feminine’ in relation to men, and, after that, at femininity and masculinity as metaphors.
Males and females do have experiences that vary markedly. But it is a huge step from that to a claim that they actually function sufficiently discrepantly psychologically for us to speak of two distinct psychologies. The evidence concerning this is muddled and hard to assess. For instance, the discovery that boys build towers and girls build enclosures when they are given bricks can be taken to show a similarity of functioning rather than difference (which is what is usually claimed). Both sexes are interested in their bodies and, possibly, in the differences between male and female bodies. Both sexes express that interest in the same way – symbolically, in play with bricks. Or, put in another form, both sexes approach the difference between the sexes in the same way. The differences that we see in gender role and gender identity can then be looked at as having arisen in the same manner. The psychological processes by which a male becomes an aggressive businessman and a female a nurturing and submissive housewife are the same and one should not be deceived by the dissimilarity in the end product.
What I have been describing is not a woman’s relation to an innate femininity or to an innate masculinity. Rather I am talking of her relation to the phenomenon of difference. Then we can consider the social or cultural structures erected on the basis of that difference. Each woman lives her life in interplay with such difference. This leads at once to questions of gender role (for example, how a woman can best express her aggression in our culture) but these questions need not be couched in terms of innate femininity or innate masculinity, nor in terms of a feminine-masculine spectrum. Rather, they might be expressed in terms of difference. In the example, the difference between aggression and submission needs to be seen as different from the difference between men and women! Or, put another way, whatever differences there might be between women and men are not illuminated or signified by the difference between submission and aggression. In the previous two chapters, we have been exploring how gender difference is formed in relations between parents and children and by cultural and social organization.
I am aware that men are said to have access to the ‘feminine’, or to the ‘feminine principle’ and I used to think that such an unremittingly interior view was the jewel in the Jungian crown. Now I am not so sure. If we’re attempting to describe psychological performance, we have to be sure why terms with gendered associations and appellations are being used at all. Otherwise we end up with statements such as that ‘masculine’ aggression is available to women via their relation to the animus, or ‘feminine’ reflection in the man via his anima. But aggression is part of woman and reflection is part of man. What is more, there are so many kinds of aggression open to women that even current attempts to speak of a woman’s aggression as ‘feminine’ rather than ‘masculine’ still bind her as tightly as ever. Let us begin to speak merely of aggression. Gender engenders confusion – and this is made worse when gender terms are used exclusively in an inner way. When we speak of ‘inner’ femininity in a man, we bring in all the unnecessary problems of reification and substantive abstraction that I have been describing. We still cannot assume that psychological functioning is different in men and women, though we know that the creatures ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are different.
The question of ‘difference’ brings us to a point where we can play back these ideas into analytical psychology. From Jung’s overall theory of opposites, which hamstrings us by its insistence on contrasexuality (‘masculine’ assertion via the animus, etc.), we can extract the theme of difference. The notion of difference, I suggest, can help us in the discussion about gender. Not innate ‘opposites’, which lead us to create an unjustified psychological division expressed in lists of antithetical qualities, each list yearning for the other list so as to become ‘whole’. A marriage made on paper. No, I am referring to the fact, image, and social reality of difference itself. Not what differences between women and men there are, or have always been; if we pursue that, we end up captured by our captivation and obsession with myth and with the eternal, part of the legacy from Jung. I am interested in what difference is like, what the experience of difference is like (and how that experience is distorted in the borderline disorders). Not what a woman is, but what being a woman is like. Not the archetypal structuring of woman’s world but woman’s personal experience in today’s world. Not the meaning of a woman’s life but her experience of her life. Each person remains a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’, but what that means to each becomes immediate and relative, and hence capable of generational expansion and cultural challenge. My suggestion has been that paternal deficits constrict the expansion and truncate the challenge.
In both the collective, external debate about gender characteristics and the personal, internal debate about gender identity, the question of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ is best left in suspension – even, and the word is used advisedly, in some confusion. ‘Gender confusion’ is a necessary antidote to gender certainty and has its own creative contribution to make. This is particularly true in the treatment of borderline disorders, as we shall see in the next chapter. For, when we consider gender and the borderline we will see how gender confusion and gender certainty can operate in isolation from each other. Inadvertently, those who propound a ‘feminine principle’ play into and replicate the dynamics of unconscious gender certainty, denying gender confusion.
It is probably fair to say that post-Jungian analytical psychology has become preoccupied with gender certainty and gender confusion in its concern with the ‘feminine principle’. Here, I am not referring to the writings on women and ‘feminine psychology’ by Jung and his early circle of followers. The problems with that body of work are well known and often repeated. But in the 1970s and 1980s, mainly in the United States, women writers in analytical psychology have set out to revise, or revolutionize, the early work. Such writers are struggling to be ‘post-Jungian’ in their attempt to critique those of Jung’s ideas that seem unsatisfactory or just plain wrong without dismissing Jung altogether.
The reason why there has been a concentration on the ‘feminine principle’ in recent Jungian writing is that it has provided a means to celebrate the specificity of women’s identity, life, and experience. In addition, having the notion of a ‘feminine principle’ in mind helps to make a critique of culture out of personal confrontations with it. The basic desire of feminists who are involved in Jungian psychology has been to refuse and refute the denigration of women that is perceived in analytical psychology, to bring the feminine gender in from the condescending margins, and to promote an alternative philosophy of life to that expressed in the power institutions of a male-dominated society.
Taken as a whole, and I realize I am generalizing, feminism which draws on Jung’s ideas stands out from other varieties, with which I feel more in sympathy, in two main ways. Both of these stem from Jung’s approach, resist eradication, and cause great difficulties. It is assumed that there is something eternal about femininity and, hence, about women; that women therefore, display certain essential transcultural and ahistorical characteristics; and that these can be described in psychological terms. What is omitted is the on-going role of the prevailing culture in the construction of the ‘feminine’ and a confusion develops between what is claimed to be eternal and what is currently observed to be the case. It is here that the deadweight of the heritage of archetypal theory is felt, but as the mirror image of Jung’s problem. He assumed that there is something eternal about women and, hence, about femininity. As Young-Eisendrath (1987: 47) writes, ‘certain beliefs about difference – for example, about gender and racial differences – have influenced our thinking about the meaning of symbolic representations, behaviours, style, and manner of people who are alien to the roots of our psychology in Switzerland’. She goes on to say that we need ‘something more than maps and charts of our own design’.
I would like to say what I find problematic in the many attempts to locate eternal models or maps for the psychological activity of women in mythology and goddess imagery. When such imagery is used as a kind of role model or resource for a woman in her here-and-now pain and struggle, that is one thing. But when it is claimed that such endeavour is a reclamation of qualities and characteristics that once prevailed in human society only to be smashed by the patriarchy, then that is altogether more suspect. For it is a highly disputed point, to put it mildly, that such an era ever existed. Could this be a case of taking myth too literally? And isn’t there a hidden danger here? For if men were to claim that they are in the direct line of psychic inheritance of the characteristics and qualities of gods and heroes, then we’d end up with the status quo, with things just as they are, for they couldn’t be any other way. As far as role-modelling and resource provision goes, surely any woman, even or especially an analyst, can perform this task for another woman.
It could be argued that referring to a goddess as a role model or resource is to miss the point about what is special in a divine figure – the numinosity that attaches to such a figure and hence provides a special form of authority. I am not convinced by this argument, for any figure can constellate the kind of venerating transference that is exemplified in the mortal-divine relation. This is something well known to any and every analyst who has experienced an idealizing transference. If the numinosity is not what is specific to the goddess, then, as I suggested, it is her a-temporality, that which is claimed as eternal and absolute in her.
The search for hidden sources of authority is a project constellated by what is seen as a flawed cultural tradition. But there may also be a ‘flaw’ in the project itself, for such a search demonstrates the very sense of weakness and lack of authority which it seeks to overcome. Engaging in a rivalrous search for female archetypes could lead to a new set of restrictions on female experience, as several writers have observed (Lauter and Rupprecht 1985: 9 discuss this point in detail).
Could we try to play the feminine principle in a pragmatic and not an eternal or absolute key? If so, then its truth would be measured, in William James’s words, ‘by the extent to which it brings us into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience’ (1911: 157). We would have to start assembling material on the experience of difference as well as on the experience of womanhood and manhood. Sociologists and academic psychologists may have done this but depth psychologists have not – or not yet. Then, in Shorter’s words, we would become less concerned with the ‘image’ of woman and more with ‘likeness’ to that image. She says: ‘Likeness is consciousness of image and its embodiment. . . . It is not a question of imitation; each person becomes in part and to the measure that he (sic) is able “like to” the image’ (Shorter 1987: 40). Or in Caroline Stevens’s words: ‘as a woman, anything I do is feminine’ (personal communication, 1987).
The second point of disagreement between feminism in analytical psychology and feminism generally has to do with the impression that much Jungian discourse on the ‘feminine’ seems directed away from political and social action. Dwelling upon interiority and feeling becomes an end in itself. So, just as middle-class Victorian women were believed to be the repository of sensibility and confined to hearth and home, in the Jungian manner of it, women in the nuclear age are meant to be mainly private creatures.
My concern is that much thinking and writing around the ‘feminine principle’ has opened a secret door into analytical psychology for the return of what is, paradoxically and ironically, an overstructured approach to psyche, heavily dependent upon abstraction and decidedly moralistic. What I’m suggesting is that much contemporary Jungian work on feminine psychology may be seen as far more of an ‘imitation of Jung’ than was consciously intended. The intention of rectifying Jung’s mistakes and prejudices has been perverted.
Trawling the recent literature, I have been struck by the massiveness of the feminine problematic, signified in numerous phrases such as: feminine elements of being, feminine modality of being, femininity of self, feminine ways of knowing, feminine authority, feminine assertion, feminine reflection, feminine dimensions of the soul, primal feminine energy pattern, feminine power, feminine response, feminine creativity, feminine mysteries, feminine body, feminine subjectivity, feminine transformation. I could have quadrupled the list; for ease of reference, I have subsumed all these terms under the general heading of the ‘feminine principle’.
Something oppressive has come into being – not, repeat not, because what is claimed as the content of the ‘feminine principle’ is oppressive but because celebrating the feminine has raised it to the status of an ego-ideal, leading to a simple and pointless reversal of power positions. Further, perhaps it is the shadow of feminism generally to make women feel inadequate when they don’t come up to its mark – or cannot emulate notable feminist figures.
GENDER, METAPHOR AND THE BODY
I would like to say a few words now about the literal and metaphoric relationships between anatomy and psychology to draw together the psychological and scientific aspects of the gender debate, and because I will be talking again about this towards the end of the chapter. A literal determinism has seduced those who seek to make a simple equation between body and psyche. We do not really know what the relationship between them is but it is probably indirect. The fact that a penis penetrates and a womb contains tells us absolutely nothing about the psychological qualities of those who actually possess such organs. One does not have to be a clinician to recognize penetrative women and receptive men – nor to conclude that psychology has projected its fantasies onto the body.
A claim is often made that a female’s body contains in it certain qualities and characteristics that lead to there being a quite specific and innate female psychology, based on the female body and quite divorced from male psychology, based on the male body. Now, as I just mentioned, there seems to be no problem with the idea that males and females have experiences of their bodies as different from the other sex’s body. But the argument that innate psychological differences between the sexes are based on the body has serious and insidious difficulties in it. It sounds so grounded, so reasonable, so common-sensical, so different from social or ideological styles of exploring gender issues. However, if psychological activity is body-based then, as body is more or less a constant over the entire history of humanity, body-based psychological theory can only support the horrendous gender situation with which we are faced just now. For, if it is body-based, how can it be altered? It must be an inevitability and we would have to agree with Stevens when he argues that ‘patriarchy is the natural condition of mankind’ (Stevens 1982: 188).
Of course, psychology cannot be split off from the body. But the link is on a deeper level even than that of anatomical or endocrinological distinctiveness. The link between psyche and body surely refers to the body as a whole – its moods and movements, its pride and shame, its rigour and its messiness. On this level, the body in question is already a psychological body, a psychesoma, an imaginal body even – providing a whole range of experiences. Sometimes, this imaginal body provides crossover experiences, ‘masculine’ for women and ‘feminine’ for men. When the link between psyche and body is envisioned in terms of the body as a whole, then whether that body is anatomically male or anatomically female is less significant. But I am not attempting to deny anyone’s experience of their body, nor to dispute the value of paying attention to the body. Indeed, the descriptions in this book of the father’s relations with his children are markedly oriented towards physical experience and activity.
Even on a literal, bodily level, recent advances in anatomical research show that things are not what they seem to be. This renders attempts to link bodily and psychological characteristics, even of a subtle and metaphorical kind, highly relative, mutable, and conditioned by the state of knowledge and belief at any one time. In her book Eve’s Secrets (1987), Lowndes engages in a comparative study of women’s and men’s sex organs. It turns out that the results of such studies depend completely upon what is compared. For instance, we usually compare penis and vagina, or penis and clitoris. But what if we compare the penis to the sum of clitoris, urethra, and vagina (the so-called CUV)? Then, according to Lowndes, the fact that the clitoris does have a much longer and deeper structure under the skin that merely culminates in the visible crown means that the female possesses an organ equal in size to the penis and composed of the same erectile material. What is more, a woman has a glans – this is not to be found on her clitoris but close by the opening of her urethra, a raised area as yet possessing no consensual medical name. Looking at the man, Lowndes points out how little is known about the inside of the penis and suggests that in the corpora cavernosa there is an area, or spot, that is as sensitive as the clitoris and performs the same functions: a male clitoris.
Lowndes has also found that men and women both have erections, though the charging with blood is visible more markedly in the male. She has also established, by means of careful test measurement, that there is a female ejaculation, composed of fluid that is neither urine nor vaginal secretion.
Anatomical differences between sex organs of men and women are, on the basis of Lowndes’s work, quite literally skin-deep. However, the point is not whether she is right or wrong about it but rather to underline the problems with regarding the body as a fixed element in a body-psyche linkage. Again, this is not to deny such a link, merely to point out the impossibility of dismissing fantasy and/or changing knowledge from our eventual conclusions.
A further instance of the psychological significance of such work is that it is not at all new. In 400 BC Hippocrates said that men and women both ejaculate. In AD 150 Galen said that the vagina and ovaries are penis and testicles ‘inside out’. In 1561 Fallopio discovered, as well as his tubes, that the clitoris has deep structures. In 1672 Regnier de Graaf looked for and found evidence of female ejaculation. It seems that what we say is the case about the body is already psychological (e.g. Freud or, indeed, Kinsey).
Why is this issue of the body as a possible base for sex-specific psychology so critical? I can give two suggestions about this. First, the whole cultural versus innate gender debate is, or has become numinous. If I have taken one side rather than advancing a multifactorial theory, this is partly because it is what I think, partly because that’s my personal style, and partly because a clash of doctrines is where the life in psychology is to be found. Again, though I think I’m right, it does not matter so much whether I am right or wrong, but whether what I am talking about can be recognized.
The second reason why the gender debate stirs us has to do with our ambivalence about our constitution, the psychological make-up that we bring into the world. On the one hand, how secure and fulfilling to know that one is quite definitely a man or a woman! I certainly feel a need for certainty and at no time do I suggest that there are no such entities as men or women. On the other hand, I am sure that anatomy is not destiny and am trying to work my resentment at the idea that it might be into a critique of those who tell me it is. There are no direct messages from the body.
Which leads back to the great problem with an overdependence in theory-making on the body’s impact on psychology. If anatomy is destiny, then nothing can be done to change the position of women. So women who base their quest for a new and positive meaning for femininity on the body inadvertently undermine their own cause. On the contrary, we know how definitions of women and men change over time. Up until the end of the eighteenth century, for instance, representations of men in literature and drama quite often had them as crying – so different from this century, in which big boys don’t cry. The body is not an icon in a vacuum.
It follows that animus and anima images are not of men and women because animus and anima qualities are ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. No – here, for the individual woman or man, anatomy is a metaphor for the richness and potential of the ‘other’. A man will imagine what is ‘other’ to him in the symbolic form of a woman – a being with another anatomy. A woman will symbolize what is foreign to her in terms of the kind of body she does not herself have. The so-called contrasexuality is more something ‘contra-psychological’; anatomy is a metaphor for that. But anatomy is absolutely not a metaphor for any particular emotional characteristic or set of characteristics. That depends on the individual and on whatever is presently outside her or his conscious grasp and hence in need of being represented by a personification of the opposite sex. The difference between you and your animus or anima is very different from the difference between you and a man or woman. (I do realize that I am discussing animus and anima in their personified forms but I am bringing them in as illustrative of the indirect nature of the relation between body and psyche.)
What I am saying is that ‘metaphor’ can be as seductively misleading and one-sided as ‘literalism’. Sometimes, it is claimed that ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are metaphors (you know, ‘just’ metaphors) for two distinct Weltanschauungen or the typical styles of operating of the two cerebral hemispheres. Why can’t we just talk of Weltanschauungen or just of hemispheres? When we bring in either masculinity and femininity or maleness and femaleness we are projecting a dichotomy that certainly exists in human ideation and functioning onto convenient receptors for the projections. Then the argument that masculinity and femininity should be understood nonliterally, as really having nothing to do with bodily men and bodily women in a social context, may be taken as a recognition that a projection has been made, but falling far short of a successful recollection of it, certainly as far as our culture is concerned. All the other divisions that we know about – rational/irrational, Apollonian/Dionysian, classical/romantic, digital/analogic, and so forth – all these exist in every human being. They cannot conveniently be assigned by gender (or sex), save by the kind of bifurcated projection I have depicted. Why do we make such a projection? Surely it is more than a question of language? It could be because we find difficulty in living with both sides of our murky human natures. In our borderline way, we import a degree of certainty and clarity, and hence reduce anxiety, by making the projection. Summarizing my view: it is in this projection that we find the origins of dualist ambitions to construct distinct psychologies for the two sexes and of the attempt to use ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ solely as metaphors.
The whole gender debate suggests that, as with the father’s relations to his children, we need to question whether heterosexuality itself should be taken as innate and therefore as something fundamental and beyond discussion, or whether it, too, has a nonbiological dimension. Freud’ s perception was of an innate bisexuality followed later by heterosexuality. Jung’s view was that man and woman are each incomplete without the other: heterosexuality is therefore a given. In this sense he differs from Freud’s emphasis on bisexuality as the natural state of mankind. In Freud’s approach, sexual identity arises from the enforced twin demands of reproduction and society. What I have been arguing shifts the concept of bisexuality from something undifferentiated (polymorphous or polyvalent) into a vision of there being available to all a variety of positions in relation to gender role – without recourse to the illusion of androgyny.
Feminist art critics have faced up to many of these problems concerning the body. In a critique of the relation between the biologic and the cultural, Parker and Pollock state that ‘acknowledging the importance of events of the body . . . is not reducible to biological essentialism, a facet of patriarchal ideology which supposes a primordial difference between the sexes determined by anatomical and specifically genital structures. How the body is lived and experienced is implicated at all levels in social or societally determined psychic processes’ (Parker and Pollock 1987: 29). Parker and Pollock go on to describe an art work entitled ‘Menstruation II’ by Cate Elwes. During her period, dressed in white and seated in a white, glass-fronted box, she could be watched bleeding. Questions and her answers could be written on the walls of the box. Elwes wrote, ‘The work reconstitutes menstruation as a metaphorical framework in which it becomes the medium for the expression of ideas and experience by giving it the authority of cultural form and placing it within an art context’ (quoted in Parker and Pollock 1987: 30).
If discriminations like these are not made, then those analytical psychologists who espouse the idea of innate, body-based, sex-specific psychologies, find themselves lined up with those groupings often referred to as the ‘New Right’. New Right assumptions about sex-specific psychology tend to be based on appeals to tradition and often have a romantic appeal but, as Di Statham has argued in her paper ‘Women, the new right and social work’ (1987), those working therapeutically need to be aware of the way in which the assumptions can be used to promote the notion of ‘order’ and of how women’s activities, in particular, are decisively limited.
The same point is made, with a good deal of passion, by Anne McManus in the August 1987 issue of the British feminist journal Spare Rib. She wrote:
Feminism is flowing with the rightward tide, its critical radical spirit diluted beyond recognition . . . A decisive shift came in the transformation of women’s liberation from oppression, to today’s confirmation of that oppression in a type of popular feminism which unashamedly embraces anything female. Never mind that this implies a conservative re-embracing of traditional women’s roles that the original movement was all about denouncing. Now any old gullible gush practised by women is feminist, especially if it’s emotive, and authentic (what isn’t authentic anyway at this level?), and anti-male rationality. A false dichotomy between thinking men and feeling women evacuates reason to men while women’s fates are sealed, trapped again in eternal emotionality which leaves male power safely intact. Thus women are immobilised and trivialised by their very softness and tenderness, voluntarily abdicating the dirty power struggle, and thereby the power, to those who have it.
James, W. (1911) Pragmatism. London: Longmans Green; Cambridhe, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Lowndes, J. (1987) Eve’s Secrets. London: Bloomsbury.
Parker, R. & Pollock, G. (1987) Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970-1984. London & New York: Pandora.
Samuels, A. (1985) Jung and the Post-Jungians. London & Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Sayers, J. (1986) Sexual Contradictions: Psychology, Psychoanalysis, and Feminism. London: Tavistock.
Shorter, B. (1987) An Image Darkly Forming: Women and Initiation. London & New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Siann, G. (1985) Accounting for Aggression: Perspectives on Aggression and Violence. London & Boston: Allen & Unwin.
Statham, D. (1987) ‘Women, the new right and social work’. J. Soc. Wr. Prac. 2:4.
Stevens, A. (1982) Archetype: A Natural History of the Self. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
*The following speech was delivered by Elizabeth Hobson at the 2020 digital International Conference on Men’s Issues (ICMI) (shortened version).
We inhabit a world of things – literally observable objects and facts, and, for the MRA, literally measurable evidence of male disadvantage. And we MRAs collectively do a good and necessary job of measuring and cataloguing such disadvantages. It escapes none of us however, though our evidence is required (and should be), that feminists are not held to the same standards.
That feminists can assert the most outrageous untruths, without challenge. That baseless feminist conspiracy theories, fantasies, lies, delusions and myths are simply believed. The reason for this is simple: as much as a world of things, we live in a world of stories (Peterson, 2018).
Mythologies, archetypes and expectations help us to organise information. We can’t expect to be able to rationally sift through each piece of data that we’re exposed to, so we categorise constantly: of interest/not of interest, in line with what we would expect/anomalous (Sowell, 1987).1 And feminism has been uniquely deft at creating compelling stories that people can internalise, which act as shields against further investigation of their claims.
If this sounds malevolent: that’s because it is. Feminists misuse the power of stories to circumvent the logical appraisal that should accompany policy lobbying and establishment. Feminists misuse the power of stories to breed resentment instead of love between men and women. Feminists misuse the power of stories to justify hate-filled and supremacist intentions as recompense for centuries of “sex-based oppression”.
And the fact is that feminism has advantages in the story-weaving game. Our species’ innate gynocentrism, our gender empathy gap and our evolutionary perceptions of men (the genetic filter, to be policed) and women (the limiting factor in reproduction, to be protected) allows us to zero-in on female disadvantage and to ignore male disadvantage, to view the world through blinkered eyes through the lens of the female experience, to believe in an innate badness in men!
But we MRAs have advantages also… We can share stories that enrich the psyches of our audiences with gratitude and love for men, and respect for women. We can share stories that are exponentially closer to the truth than those sordid webs that feminists create. Stories backed by facts, but stories that can be internalised by a significant proportion of the public; and weaponised so that no longer will feminist rhetoric be taken at face value. So that the playing field will be levelled and the standards of evidence that we accept as the bare minimum required for MRAs to advocate – will also apply to feminists.
This is why I believe in the power of stories to deliver justice for men and boys (and the women who love them).
Feelings don’t care about your facts
Stories frequently succeed in arousing strong feelings, like when we read a novel and become moved to tears or anger, or when we see scenes in a movie which make our skin crawl, give goose bumps, or make our hair stand on its proverbial end. Such strong feelings, and the stories that generate them, seem to put a lie to the popular phrase “Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings”. The reverse seems more likely in evidence, even when we know that a fantasy novel or movie is not factually real – our feelings remain dominant.
This is why old-world mythologies, complete with kooky beliefs, have flourished and sustained large civilizations – civilizations which thrived and expanded under the guiding influence of those same unfactual stories. Even when the stories promote a geocentric universe with a flat earth, or mythical gods requiring human sacrifices, deadly wars or violence over the divinely mandated length of men’s beards, or whether a woman’s mandated head covering is pleasing to the divine powers. You would think these things would cause a civilization to collapse and die out, however it appears that those more rational civilizations who deconstruct myths have birth rates plummeting whilst cultures based in fanciful stories enjoy explosive birth rates.
Perhaps it’s time to consider the painful possibility that feelings don’t always care about our facts. That’s certainly the case in many cultures, and it may indeed be a default setting of human beings generally – we are story creatures, and facts are often seen as an affront that offends both the stories we believe in and feelings associated with them.
Writing in the year 1984,2 professor emeritus of communication Walter R. Fisher explored these two approaches to reality – the approaches of both story and rationality – and named them 1. ‘the narrative paradigm’ and 2. ‘the rational world paradigm.’
Fisher describes the narrative paradigm in much the same way as I am in this talk; as a reflection of the fact that we use stories to communicate with each other, and to provide a shared map of meaning among a group of people.
Stories help by gathering the scattered bric-a-brac of everyday existence and combining it into a coherent whole, or what we might refer to as a template, that we use to orient ourselves and our goals in harmony with the shared orientation and goals of others. In short stories provide us with a shareable world.
As we have seen, religious stories and folk tales, can be both benevolent by way of organizing the masses into a harmonious moral unit, or they can be destructive as we see in stories promoting warfare against innocent nations, and even those stories which, today, promote gender wars.
What Fisher refers to alternatively as the ‘rational world paradigm’ consists in five presuppositions, which I can paraphrase as: 1. That humans are essentially rational beings, 2. That human decision-making and communication is a form of argument depending on clear-cut inferential and implicative structure, 3. That the conduct of such argument is ruled by legal, scientific and legislative dictates (etc), 4. That rationality is determined by subject matter knowledge, argumentative ability, and skill in employing the rules of advocacy in given fields, and finally, 5. The world is a set of logical puzzles which can be resolved through logical analysis and application of reason conceived as an argumentative construct.
Fisher notes the frequent failure of the rational world paradigm in the modern context, and goes on to conclude that:
This failure suggests to me that the problem in restoring rationality to everyday argument may be the assumption that the reaffirmation of the rational world paradigm is the only solution. The position I am taking is that another paradigm may offer a better solution, one that will provide substance not only for public moral argument, but also all other forms of argument, for human communication in general. My answer to the second question then, is: “Yes I think so.”
Adoption of the narrative paradigm, I hasten to repeat, does not mean rejection of all the good work that has been done; it means a rethinking of it and investigating new moves that can be made to enrich our understanding of communicative interaction. 2
What Fisher refers to as “Investigating new moves” is something the men’s issues community might also take on board – specifically that stories and the feelings they evoke can be used as a form of communication to address the wrongs of gynocentrism and misandry we have been working so hard on, with limited successes, via the rational mode of argumentation and data recitations.
The narrative communication paradigm, or more simply the use of stories, has been criticised from a rational perspective when applied to scientific or legal issues, with the charge being that there is no way to make a choice between two equally coherent narratives. This is a valid complaint, but not one that practitioners of the rational world paradigm completely escape – this due to their frequent preferencing of one set of data over another, of placing the accent on one set of findings while neglecting others – a tendency that renders “rationalist” conclusions more subjective than they might like to admit – just like those of the story tellers.
Ultimately the rational and narrative approaches need to work in tandem if we wish to provide strong results, but at present the men’s movement has been wary of narrative approaches due to their tendency to subjectivity and corruption. Unfortunately, storytelling remains the preferred mode of communication and decision-making of the human species, therefore we can’t simply wish it away as irrelevant because that would be to deny the fact that humans have evolved to be narrative creatures – Homo Narrans – who preference communication via stories. It is a biological and evolutionary fact, so it isn’t going away, and hating it will do little to change its biological necessity.
If story is here to stay, then we need to enter the fray. We need to get down into the alphabet soup and wrestle with those destructive narratives perpetuated by feminists and others who would reduce men and boys to a tiny fraction of their lived experience. This can be done by challenging any element of the dominant gender narratives currently circulating – by amending the stories to conclude the male hero is “good” rather than “toxic,” or by crafting new stories altogether that incorporate the positive experiences of men and boys.
That is my challenge to you all today: not to do away with rational or data-based approaches, but to broaden them by offering new endings to the destructive stories currently on offer, re-narrating them, or by telling new stories in ways so compelling and emotionally moving that they displace the destructive ones currently on offer.
 Sowell, T. (2002). A conflict of visions: Ideological origins of political struggles. Basic Books (AZ).
 Fisher, W. R. (1984). Narration as a human communication paradigm: The case of public moral argument. Communications Monographs, 51(1), 1-22.
E.B. Bax outlined two forms of damseling, one appearing as “simple weakness,” and the other as “aggressive weakness.” In his view simple weakness deserves consideration on its merits, whereas aggressiveweakness deserves no assistance.
“For modern Feminists of the sentimental school, the distinction is altogether lost sight of between weakness as such and aggressive weakness. Now I submit there is a very considerable difference between what is due to weakness that is harmless and unprovocative, and weakness that is aggressive, still more when this aggressive weakness presumes on itself as weakness, and on the consideration that might be extended to it, in order to become tyrannical and oppressive. Weakness as such assuredly deserves all consideration, but aggressive weakness deserves none save to be crushed beneath the iron heel of strength. Woman at the present day has been encouraged by a Feminist public opinion to become meanly aggressive under the protection of her weakness. She has been encouraged to forge her gift of weakness into a weapon of tyranny against man, unwitting that in so doing she has deprived her weakness of all just claim to consideration or even to toleration.” Chapter 5: The “Chivalry” Fake, in The Fraud of Feminism (1913)
Whether real or purely fabricated, these displays of vulnerability represent the two main faces or modes of enacting the damsel-in-distress archetype. Both begin their display with an announcement of vulnerability and powerlessness, but their ways of enlisting assistance differ considerably. The simple damsel invites assistance by displaying utter helplessness, imparting a sense of inadequacy, impotence and a complete lack of agency to deal with the situation responsible for her distress. The aggressive damsel, on the other hand, angrily denounces the forces assailing her, and demands redress with bitter and vindictive calls for the world to exact revenge on her behalf.
Unlike the simple damsel, the aggressive damsel feels unable to attract chivalric reinforcements via the simple act of broadcasting her helplessness. Thus, she loudly seeks the attention of men and governments, demanding they provide chivalric redress for whatever ‘distress’ is assailing her. This kind of damsel relies particularly on governments to address her grievances, and she is likely the kind of woman that John Stuart Mill, an advocate of feminism, had in mind when he wrote the following;
“From the moral influence exercised by women arose the spirit of chivalry … a special submission and worship directed towards women, who were distinguished from the other defenceless classes by the high rewards which they had it in their power voluntarily to bestow on those who endeavoured to earn their favour, instead of extorting their subjection.
Chivalry left without legal check all those forms of wrong which reigned unpunished throughout society; it only encouraged a few to do right in preference to wrong, by the direction it gave to the instruments of praise and admiration. But the real dependence of morality must always be upon its penal sanctions – its power to deter from evil…The beauties and graces of the chivalrous character are still what they were, but the rights of the weak, and the general comfort of human life, now rest on a far surer and steadier support.” [John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women1869]
Many readers will recognise Bax’s simple weakness in the behaviour of traditional gynocentric women, and likewise will recognize aggressive weakness in the behaviours of feminist women. However, contrary to Bax’s trusting view of non-aggressive displays of weakness, readers might recognize that these too can amount to manufactured displays of weakness every bit as manipulative and undeserving of assistance as that of aggressive weakness.
To labor this theme a little further, we also find these two modes of enacting the damsel within classical mythology, long before our modern world learned to exploit the victim routine for personal advancement. The two goddesses who best represent these positions are Persephone, the simple damsel who was abducted and victimised by Hades without ever showing personal agency of her own, and yet her helplessness alone provoked widespread efforts to save her, and secondly the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus who was forever seething in a sense of victimhood and grievance, while seeking cosmic vengeance toward those who wronged her. For more on these classical archetypes I recommend the YouTube channel of Greta Aurora who has made many videos exploring the victim complexes of these goddesses, along with explorations of many other archetypal figures.
The origins of damseling are biologically-based and are as old as the human race. Technically speaking, the behaviour we refer to as damseling refers to a human being who announces its vulnerability to others – to husband, family, friend, stranger or to one’s tribe.
The announcement of vulnerability stimulates a neurological system in the brain designed to provoke reflexes of protection, caretaking and nurturance of vulnerable children and infants. However, the same neurological system can be provoked by adults who find themselves in a vulnerable situation, or by adults feigning vulnerability in order to acquire resources of protection, provision, and especially, comfort. While such vulnerability can be displayed by any human, whether a child or adult of either sex, when we use the word damseling it refers especially to adult women who engage in theatrical versions of these behaviours.
The word “damsel” derives from the French demoiselle, meaning “young lady”, and the term “damsel in distress” in turn is a translation of the French demoiselle en détresse. The behaviour of the damsel in distress; her screams, her fear, her appeals for relief in the face of immanent danger, are captured in the words of Julia Kristeva who says of life in the Middle Ages, “Roles were assigned to woman and man: suzerain and vassal, the lady offering up a ‘distress’ and the man offering a ‘service.’ “
Ancient mythologies around the world have captured the theme of damseling, and also the ‘parental brain’ state of the heroes who set out to rescue vulnerable maidens. While these tales are numerous, the practice of damseling did not become the centrepiece of any culture until a catering to women’s vulnerability was codified as a social expectation for men in the Middle Ages – a codification whereby men were asked to specialize as servicing agents in the role of alleviating women’s distresses. Giving birth to this idea, chivalry, courtly love, and a new sexual relations contract coalesced that placed women’s safety and comfort at the top of the hierarchy of social customs.
This gendered social development is perhaps nowhere better exemplified than in the “Enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady” a chivalric order founded by French knight and military leader Jean Le Maingre and twelve knights in 1399, committing themselves for the duration of five years to the protecting of all damsels in distress:
Inspired by the ideal of courtly love, the stated purpose of the order was to guard and defend the honor, estate, goods, reputation, fame and praise of all ladies, including widows.
According to his Livre des faits, in 1399 Jean Le Maingre, tired of receiving complaints from ladies, maidens, and widows oppressed by powerful men bent on depriving them of the lands and honours, and finding no knight of squire willing to defend their just cause, out of compassion and charity founded an order of twelve knights sworn to carry “a shield of gold enamelled with green and a white lady inside” (une targe d’or esmaillé de verd & tout une dame blanche dedans). The twelve knights, after swearing this oath, affirmed a long letter explaining their purpose and disseminated it widely in France and beyond her borders.
The letter explained that any lady young or old finding herself the victim of injustice could petition one or more or the knights of the ‘Enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady’ for redress and that knight would respond promptly and leave whatever other task he was performing to fight the lady’s oppressor personally.
During this period, men saving damsels was referred to euphemistically as love service, which saw male lovers referred to as homo ligius (the woman’s liegeman, or ‘my man’) who pledged honor, and servitium (service) to the lady via a posture of feudal homage. This growth of gynocentric specialization would later allow Modesta Pozzo to write the following:
“Don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us—they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.” (Pozzo – 1590 AD)
Such is the social ascendency of women and their ever-increasing cries of distress. Today we have a different dilemma in that damseling has evolved into a victim cult extending well beyond women. The damseling attitude now blankets much of the world with aggressive demands for redress, with social movements arising from the trope that are fomenting violence and decay within human societies. Exploiting primal reflexes, particularly those designed for parenting vulnerable juveniles, has become a runaway train with little to stop it. We can only hope that the current destruction will serve as the moment of reflection and restraint toward the damsel’s demands.
The damsel in distress, persecuted maiden, or princess in jeopardy is a classic theme in world literature, art, film and video games, most notably in the more action-packed. This trope usually involves beautiful, innocent, or helpless young female leads, placed in a dire predicament by a villain, monster or similar antagonist, and who requires a male hero to achieve her rescue. After rescuing her, the hero often obtains her hand in marriage. Though she is usually human, she can also be of any other species, including fictional or folkloric species; and even divine figures such as an angel, spirit, or deity.
The word “damsel” derives from the French demoiselle, meaning “young lady”, and the term “damsel in distress” in turn is a translation of the French demoiselle en détresse. It is an archaic term not used in modern English except for effect or in expressions such as this. It can be traced back to the knight-errant of Medieval songs and tales, who regarded protection of women as an essential part of his chivalric code which includes a notion of honour and nobility. The English term “damsel in distress” itself first seems to have appeared in Richard Ames’ 1692 poem “Sylvia’s Complaint of Her Sexes Unhappiness.”
The damsel in distress theme featured in the stories of the ancient Greeks. Greek mythology, while featuring a large retinue of competent goddesses, also contains helpless maidens threatened with sacrifice.
For example, Andromeda’s mother offended Poseidon, who sent a beast to ravage the land. To appease him Andromeda’s parents fastened her to a rock in the sea. The hero Perseus slew the beast, saving Andromeda. Andromeda in her plight, chained naked to a rock, became a favorite theme of later painters. This theme of the princess and dragon is also pursued in the myth of St George.
Another early example of a damsel in distress is Sita in the ancient Indian epic Ramayana. In the epic, Sita is kidnapped by the villain Ravana and taken to Lanka. Her husband Rama goes on a quest to rescue her, with the help of the monkey god Hanuman, among others.
European fairy tales frequently feature damsels in distress. Evil witches trapped Rapunzel in a tower, cursed Snow White to die in Snow White, and put the princess into a magical sleep in Sleeping Beauty. In all of these, a valorous prince comes to the maiden’s aid, saves her, and marries her (though Rapunzel is not directly saved by the prince, but instead saves him from blindness after her exile).
The damsel in distress was an archetypal character of medieval romances, where typically she was rescued from imprisonment in a tower of a castle by a knight-errant. Chaucer’s The Clerk’s Tale of the repeated trials and bizarre torments of patient Griselda was drawn from Petrarch. The Emprise de l’Escu vert à la Dame Blanche (founded 1399) was a chivalric order with the express purpose of protecting oppressed ladies.
The theme also entered the official hagiography of the Catholic Church – most famously in the story of Saint George who saved a princess from being devoured by a dragon. A late addition to the official account of this Saint’s life, not attested in the several first centuries when he was venerated, it is nowadays the main act for which Saint George is remembered.
Obscure outside Norway is Hallvard Vebjørnsson, the Patron Saint of Oslo, recognised as a martyr after being killed while valiantly trying to defend a woman – most likely a slave – from three men accusing her of theft.
In the 17th century English ballad The Spanish Lady (one of several English and Irish songs with that name), a Spanish lady captured by an English captain falls in love with her captor and begs him not to set her free but to take her with him to England, and in this appeal describes herself as “A lady in distress”.
Frank Bernard Dicksee. Chivalry
The damsel in distress makes her debut in the modern novel as the title character of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1748), where she is menaced by the wicked seducer Lovelace. The phrase “damsel in distress” is found in Richardson’s The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753):
He is sometimes a mighty Prince … and I am a damsel in distress
Reprising her medieval role, the damsel in distress is a staple character of Gothic literature, where she is typically incarcerated in a castle or monastery and menaced by a sadistic nobleman, or members of the religious orders. Early examples in this genre include Matilda in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, Emily in Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, and Antonia in Matthew Lewis’ The Monk.
The perils faced by this Gothic heroine were taken to an extreme by the Marquis de Sade in Justine, who exposed the erotic subtext which lay beneath the damsel-in-distress scenario. John Everett Millais’ The Knight Errant of 1870 saves a damsel in distress and underlines the erotic subtext of the genre.
One exploration of the theme of the persecuted maiden is the fate of Gretchen in Goethe’s Faust. According to the philosopher Schopenhauer:
The great Goethe has given us a distinct and visible description of this denial of the will, brought about by great misfortune and by the despair of all deliverance, in his immortal masterpiece Faust, in the story of the sufferings of Gretchen. I know of no other description in poetry. It is a perfect specimen of the second path, which leads to the denial of the will not, like the first, through the mere knowledge of the suffering of the whole world which one acquires voluntarily, but through the excessive pain felt in one’s own person. It is true that many tragedies bring their violently willing heroes ultimately to this point of complete resignation, and then the will-to-live and its phenomenon usually end at the same time. But no description known to me brings to us the essential point of that conversion so distinctly and so free from everything extraneous as the one mentioned in Faust (The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, §68)
The misadventures of the damsel in distress of the Gothic continued in a somewhat caricatured form in Victorian melodrama. According to Michael Booth in his classic study English Melodrama the Victorian stage melodrama featured a limited number of stock characters: the hero, the villain, the heroine, an old man, an old woman, a comic man and a comic woman engaged in a sensational plot featuring themes of love and murder. Often the good but not very clever hero is duped by a scheming villain, who has eyes on the damsel in distress until fate intervenes to ensure the triumph of good over evil.
Such melodrama influenced the fledgling cinema industry and led to damsels in distress being the subject of many early silent films, especially those that were made as multi-episode serials. Early examples include The Adventures of Kathlyn in 1913 and The Hazards of Helen, which ran from 1914 to 1917. The silent movie heroines frequently faced new perils provided by the industrial revolution and catering to the new medium’s need for visual spectacle. Here we find the heroine tied to a railway track, burning buildings, and explosions. Sawmills were another stereotypical danger of the industrial age, as recorded in a popular song from a later era:
… A bad gunslinger called Salty Sam was chasin’ poor Sweet Sue
He trapped her in the old sawmill and said with an evil laugh, If you don’t give me the deed to your ranch I’ll saw you all in half! And then he grabbed her (and then) He tied her up (and then)
He turned on the bandsaw (and then, and then…!) …— Along Came Jones by The Coasters
During the First World War, the imagery of a Damsel in Distress was extensively used in Allied propaganda (see illustrations). Particularly, the Imperial German conquest and occupation of Belgium was commonly referred to as The Rape of Belgium – effectively transforming Allied soldiers into knights bent on saving that rape victim. This was expressed explicitly in the lyrics of Keep the Home Fires Burning mentioning the “boys” as having gone to help a “Nation in Distress”.
A form of entertainment in which the damsel-in-distress emerged as a stereotype at this time was stage magic. Restraining attractive female assistants and imperiling them with blades and spikes became a staple of 20th century magicians’ acts. Noted illusion designer and historian Jim Steinmeyer identifies the beginning of this phenomenon as coinciding with the introduction of the “sawing a woman in half” illusion. In 1921 magician P. T. Selbit became the first to present such an act to the public. Steinmeyer observes that: “Before Selbit’s illusion, it was not a cliche that pretty ladies were teased and tortured by magicians. Since the days of Robert-Houdin, both men and women were used as the subjects for magic illusions”. However, changes in fashion and great social upheavals during the first decades of the 20th century made Selbit’s choice of “victim” both practical and popular. The trauma of war had helped to desensitise the public to violence and the emancipation of women had changed attitudes to them. Audiences were tiring of older, more genteel forms of magic. It took something shocking, such as the horrific productions of the Grand Guignol theatre, to cause a sensation in this age. Steinmeyer concludes that: “beyond practical concerns, the image of the woman in peril became a specific fashion in entertainment”.
The damsel-in-distress continued as a mainstay of the comics, film, and television industries throughout the 20th century. Imperiled heroines in need of rescue were a frequent occurrence in black-and-white film serials made by studios such as Columbia Pictures, Mascot Pictures, Republic Pictures, and Universal Studios in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s. These serials sometimes drew inspiration for their characters and plots from adventure novels and comic books. Notable examples include the character Nyoka the Jungle Girl, whom Edgar Rice Burroughs created for comic books and who was later adapted into a serial heroine in the Republic productions Jungle Girl (1941) and its sequel Perils of Nyoka (1942). Additional classic damsels in that mold were Jane Porter, in both the novel and movie versions of Tarzan, and Ann Darrow, as played by Fay Wray in the movie King Kong (1933), in one of the most iconic instances. The notorious hoax documentary Ingagi (1930) also featured this idea, and Wray’s role was repeated by Jessica Lange and Naomi Watts in remakes. As journalist Andrew Erish has noted: “Gorillas plus sexy women in peril equals enormous profits”. Small screen iconic portrayals, this time in children’s cartoons, are Underdog’s girlfriend, Sweet Polly Purebred and Nell Fenwick, who is often rescued by inept Mountie Dudley Do-Right.
Frequently cited examples of a damsel in distress in comics include Lois Lane, who was eternally getting into trouble and needing to be rescued by Superman, and Olive Oyl, who was in a near-constant state of kidnap, requiring her to be saved by Popeye.
In video games
In computer and video games, female characters are often cast in the role of the damsel in distress, with their rescue being the objective of the game. Princess Zelda in the early The Legend of Zelda series and who has been described by Gladys L. Knight in her book Female Action Heroes as “perhaps one the most well-known ‘damsel in distress’ princesses in video game history”, the Sultan’s daughter in Prince of Persia, and Princess Peach through much of the Mario series are paradigmatic examples. According to Salzburge Academy on Media and Global Change, in 1981 Nintendo offered game designer Shigeru Miyamoto to create a new video game for the American market. In the game the hero was Mario, and the objective of the game was to rescue a young princess named Peach. Peach was depicted as having a pink dress and blond hair. The princess was kidnapped and trapped in a castle by the villain Bowser, who is depicted as a turtle. Princess Peach appears in 15 of the main Super Mario games and is kidnapped in 13 of them. The only main games in which Peach was not kidnapped were in the North America release of Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario 3D World, where she is instead one of the main heroes. Zelda became playable in some later games of the Legend of Zelda series or had the pattern altered.
In the Dragon’s Lair game series, Princess Daphne is the beautiful daughter of King Aethelred and an unnamed queen. She serves as the series’ damsel in distress. Jon M. Gibson of GameSpy called Daphne “the epitome” as an example of the trope.
^ See, e.g., Alison Lurie, “Fairy Tale Liberation”, The New York Review of Books, v. 15, n. 11 (Dec. 17, 1970) (germinal work in the field); Donald Haase, “Feminist Fairy-Tale Scholarship: A Critical Survey and Bibliography”, Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies v.14, n.1 (2000).
^ See Jane Yolen, “This Book Is For You”, Marvels & Tales, v. 14, n. 1 (2000) (essay); Yolen, Not One Damsel in Distress: World folktales for Strong Girls (anthology); Jack Zipes, Don’t Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Fairy Tales in North America and England, Routledge: New York, 1986 (anthology).
^ Singer, Ben (February 1999). Richard Abel (ed.). Female Power in the Serial-Queen Melodrama: The Etiology of An Anomaly in Silent Film. Continuum International Publishing Group – Athlone. pp. 168–177. ISBN0-485-30076-1.
The Men’s Rights Movement exists to recognize and ameliorate problems, institutional or social, that predominantly or exclusively harm boys and men. To that end, activists have adopted strategies ranging from filmmaking to legal action. Media analysis has also been done (Allemano, 2012) but with folktales largely ignored. This is unfortunate since folklore in its various forms has practical functions: entertaining, justifying institutions, enforcing cultural norms, educating, and providing escapism (Bascom, 1954). Thus, MRAs could harness the power and versatility of folktales to influence the culture. “The Four Artful Brothers” (Manheim, 1977) is a strong foundation since it complies with pro-male values in several ways.
The story tells of siblings who leave home to find jobs when they’re father is unable to provide for them. Becoming a thief, a hunter, an astronomer, and a tailor, they return home, demonstrate their skills to their approving father. A dragon attacks days later and the boys combine their talents to rescue the princess, resulting in them getting awarded their own principalities.
Folklorists have argued that this tale and its variants have remained popular partly because it focuses on educating sons (Zipes, 2000). This theme is relevant for contemporary advocates because male literacy and academic achievement lags behind that of girls (Autor & Wasserman, 2013) and has since 1870 (Tyack & Hansot, 1988). But this tale doesn’t just dramatize anxieties regarding male education, it alleviates them. “The Fourt Artful Brothers” is a multi-genre narrative that includes action, fantasy, and real-world problems, which are the kinds of texts boys prefer and which they aren’t usually given (Boys Literacy Teacher Inquiry Project, 2008). To wit: the siblings battle a dragon and survive a shipwreck, satisfying the action requirement. The presence of a dragon, an omniscient telescope, and a magical needle-and-thread place the text within fantasy. And the premise of the story – leaving home to find gainful employment – is a realistic goal and concern for many young adults. Altogether, these elements fulfill the multi-genre requirement.
Combined with that is a nuanced depiction of masculinity. For instance, the story is about young men mastering skills and courageously facing mortal peril. These two traits – mastery and courage – are considered bedrocks of traditional manhood (Donovan, 2012). Yet, the tale is inclusive of men who deviate from norms. Consider the mentors: their role as teachers is people-oriented, which contrasts with men’s general preference for object-oriented work (Rong et al., 2009). The main family also deviates from norms; the boys have no mother, implying that childrearing and housekeeping were done by their father and themselves since the birth of the youngest. The youngest himself does tailoring – a subset of textile work like sewing, knitting, and weaving – which has traditionally been a feminine craft (Barber, 1998). Notably, the king says that each of the brothers have an equal right to marry his daughter, metaphorically saying that all men are worthy of respect and recognition, regardless of their gender expression.
Another point in the tale’s favor is its multilayered subversion of male disposability. While the boys do endanger themselves for a woman they’ve never met, their primary motive is to prove the usefulness of their skills. Their secondary motive is economic, since they came from poverty and are unemployed at the time. Another challenge to the disposability of men comes from the king. Unlike real-world leaders who conscript men to war (Watson, 2014) or citizens who sacrifice men for women’s benefit (FeldmanHall et al., 2016), the king offers an incentive to save the princess and the boys are the only men to go her rescue.
Marina Warner, a prominent mythographer, once declared, “I decided that it was crucial not to leave the territory of the imagination to those history has taught us to recognize as dangerous” (The University of Sheffield, 2017). Hers is an attitude that men’s rights activist should embrace wholeheartedly, especially because those who pose a threat to male wellness already have a head start.
Donovan, J. (2012). The way of men. Milwaukie: Dissonant Hum.
FeldmanHall, O., Dalgleish, T., Evans, D., Navrady, L., Tedeschi, E., Moobs, D. (2016). Moral chivalry: Gender and harm sensitivity predict costly altruism. Social psychological and personality science, 7(6), 542-551.
Manheim, R. (1983). Grimms’ tales for young and old: The complete stories. New York: Anchor Books.
Rong, S., Rounds, J., & Armstrong, P. I. (2009). Men and things, women and people: A meta-analysis of sex differences in interests. Psychological bulletin, 135(6), 859-884.
Tyack, D., & Hansot, E. (1988). Silence and policy talk: Historical puzzles about gender and education. Educational researcher, 17(3), 33-41.
What we are witnessing is a hacking of the parental brain with the bait of dramatized neoteny. Once our biological operating system is hacked in this way, and the hack is taught as cultural operating practice, nothing can undo it. This iteration of superstimuli is here to stay. The only way around ‘aggressive vulnerability’ is to say NO when faced with its demands, which will be all day & every day in the form of female victimhood, race victimhood, “marginalized” sexuality, and so on — the hegemony of the child archetype.
Biologists, neurologists, evolutionary psychologists, and ethologists have long recognized parent and child instincts in the form of parents’ urge to caretake and protect juveniles, and conversely of juveniles having an impulse to announce their vulnerability to signal their need to be cared for. This biological fact was independently discovered and understood by archetypal psychologists (parent & child archetypes), object relations psychologists (parent & child objects), and by other schools of psychology dealing with the ‘inner child’ and the need for caretaking. Object relations psychology goes so far as claiming the sexual libido is subservient to the evolutionary imperative of parent~child bonding, making the latter the strongest motivator in human affairs.
As an interesting point of distinction, Jungians differentiate between the child archetype and what they call the ‘puer archetype‘ which can be represented respectively by the images of a toddler (child) and an older child/teen (puer). The puer archetype is perfectly represented by the figure of Peter Pan – youthful, loving of new experiences, playful, spontaneous, optimistic, adventurous. The puer is not a vulnerable child in need of coddling and protecting, he’s an independent child or youth and an archetypal imperative vital to the psychological health of all men and women. This is why I reject admonishments of the puer impulse as “Peter Pan syndrome” and “failure to launch,” which essentially shames men into assuming one-sided adult responsibility. “Failure to launch” applies more properly to an overidentification with the child archetype, which deserves challenging when it reaches the status of personal or cultural dominance.
While the above video provides only half of the full speech given by Hillman on the child archetype, it does impart a good overview of the topic. Hillman touches there on Jung’s description of the child archetype as including vulnerability, a sense of futurity (that life will begin in the future), innocence, and also a feeling of “hermaphroditism.” This sexual orientation is also confirmed in Freud’s idea that toddlers are “polymorphous perverse” and haven’t yet formed what he understood as an appropriate genital identity. Perhaps this all makes sense when you consider the concerns of the ‘marginalized’ wokists today who champion multiple genders, non-binarism, bisexuality, transgenderism etc. and aggressively demand to be taken care of.
The following is an interview with Shepherd Bliss, the man who coined the phrase ‘Mythopoetic Men’s Movement’ and who was a notable participant within the movement. Contemporary men’s movements will find much in Bliss’s views to disagree with, however he did articulate some valuable perspectives as belonging to the mythopoetic mindset, such as the rejection of reductionist definitions of masculinity in favour of a multiplicity of male archetypes. – PW
Bert: As one way to start, perhaps I should go into my own personal story. I wonder if it reflects what’s happening with the men’s movement. When Bernetta was in a women’s spirituality group I lamented that there was nothing to get into men’s spirituality; men’s deep inner work. Robert Moore and Doug Gillette’s book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover moved me so much that I designed a seminar around it. A group of friends and I did a six week King, Magician, Warrior, Lover and Green Man seminar. At that stage I wasn’t even content with staying with the four because I thought that the Green Man was important for our focus on the Earth.
Now I find Alan Chinen’s Once Upon a Midlife and Beyond the Hero a breath of fresh air. In Beyond the Hero he describes the Shaman/Trickster as an older and deeper archetype than the King, Warrior or Hero.
I’ve given some thought to the misgivings you have, about the Warrior archetype.
Shepherd: I’m glad you added that vital Green Man. Your experience, the connection that you made to the Moore/Gillette book, has happened to a number of men. Their book is entry-level work. It can ignite people and get things started. I honor that work.
Then the question is — what’s next? What more is there? People get frozen in a metaphor, such as the Warrior, as if that were the whole story or the guiding star. The problem is, if you have a whole group of people who are all catalyzed by that image, it is not a community that has diversity. It’s similar to what happens in support groups where everybody has the same problem and is working on the same issue. From ecology we learn that an ecological system is strongest when it is diverse. Life on Earth is based on biodiversity. That’s what’s behind my concern with that singular focus. Some people are too oriented toward the Warrior energy. It is a component of Men’s Work. But too much focus in that direction takes you more into men’s rights than into mythopoetic work.
Bert: Are you suggesting that warrior is not mythopoetic?
Shepherd: Mythopoetic implies polytheistic. Mythopoesis has to do with change — not getting fixated. There are multiple archetypes, not just a single archetype. If you’re moved by a single metaphor you could be mythological, but not necessarily mythopoetic.
Warrior work is young men’s work. It’s a developmental stage everybody should go through. Some people get stuck there. As you know, I’m not into this warrior stuff. I don’t like the language. Men who are drawn to it need to mature. They need to go on.
Bert: Is expanding into King going in the right direction? For example, generativity, of course, is what we associate with the King archetype.
Shepherd: I don’t associate generativity with the King. What I associate with the King archetype is ruling, commanding, dominating. I associate generativity with someone who’s beyond the King, beyond the Hero. The generativity of the Trickster. The Fool. The crazy old man.
Why talk about Kings? People came to America to get away from Kings. I don’t want Kings. I want peers, equals,democrats. I want strong men. Powerful men. Men who do good for the community. I don’t call that the King. There’s so much darkness to the King. It’s inherent to the King. Let’s go beyond monarchism and feudalism. I want to challenge this language.
Mythopoesis means re-mythologizing. The mythopoetic approach comes at times of cultural chaos, such as we have now. That’s historically been the case. Mythopoetic images arise when you break through and articulate new images. We need to study the old stories in order to go beyond them, to go to new stories and images, not merely to repeat the old stories and get stuck there.
Bert: I’ve been told you coined the word, “mythopoetic?”.
Shepherd: No. What I did was to apply the word to the men’s movement. The men’s movement rehabilitated the word, but it’s been in the literary tradition. People were calling us the Robert Bly Men’s Movement or the New Age Men’s Movement because of Keith Thompson’s interview of Robert Bly, “What Do Men Really Want?” in the New Age Journal. I did an article on the men’s movement about 10 years ago, for Yoga Journal in 1986. I studied and thought for months about language. I came across this archaic word, “mythopoetic,” which is used in literary traditions. It does not mean myth and poetry. It means to re-mythologize. When I applied it, it stuck.
Bert: David Whyte, the poet and author of The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, recently did an interview that we will publish soon. David talked quite a bit about the mythopoetic. He never talked about it in the context of Men’s Work.
Shepherd: I imagine that someone like David Whyte comes to it from the literary tradition. He does honor Robert Bly in a recent issue of New Dimensions. He is very respectful to Robert and quotes some of his translations of Rilke. I think a lot of people have been fed by the men’s movement, directly or indirectly. I’m glad the word “mythopoetic” is catching on in its wider context as well as this narrow context.
Bert: Here is one of David’s poems, Enough
these few words are enough
if not these words this breath
if not this breath the song here
This opening to the life we have refused again and again until now
David describes the entire mythopoetic tradition as one which tries to get us to open to the inner.
Shepherd: It’s a beautiful poem. In that poem one can see what I’m talking about. It’s about staying in present time and allowing ourselves to be guided by what’s happening in the moment. It’s a deeply spiritual and deeply wounded truth that David gets to there. That is the historic mythopoetic tradition. In its essence it’s re-mythologizing, not just telling the old stories. I think people don’t realize mythopoesis has this forward-moving change component.
The King and the Warrior are immature, partial images. They have dominated men’s work and they are a primary reason, in my opinion, why we have failed. The media picked these images up and ridiculed us. We deserved it. We have contributed to our demise as a mass movement. We never dealt with those images and their limitation s in a clear way.
Bert: There are places in their books where Robert Moore and Doug Gillette seem to say that these are the four that are hardwired. At the Mendocino Men’s Conference and in some of his audiotapes, he said that these are just a model and that these are not the only four archetypes.
Shepherd: I think Robert Moore and Doug Gillette are absolutely wrong. People haven’t questioned them enough. They speak only a partial truth. I don’t blame this problem on them. I blame it on our movement. They reduced the great diverse stream of masculine down to four archetypes — as if there weren’t a hundred. There are a hundred!
The hardwiring stuff is bullshit. It’s biological determinism. It’s hierarchical thinking. They are not polytheistic and polycentric. They’re hierarchical. They’re authoritarian, in their forms of leadership and in their forms of thinking. It’s fine if some people do that kind of thinking, but they aren’t much into serious intellectual dialog. They’re hard to engage.
Bert: I would love to see Alan Chinen and Robert Moore discuss the base archetypes.
Shepherd: I think they should, because Chinen is a much more substantial thinker than Moore, in my opinion. He is forward moving and futuristic whereas Moore is too rooted in the past. Chinen is on much more solid ground as a scholar, in my opinion, than Moore.
Moore obviously spoke to a need that men have. The popularizer. He has a mission. He has a messianic quality to him. Chinen, as you know from your interview with him (fall 1993), is a reserved, receptive man who comes from a different place. He doesn’t have an ideology. He’s out there story telling. In the future Alan Chinen’s work is going to appear in this period of time to have a particular importance.
I would turn the tables on Moore’s thesis. Moore says that the Trickster is immature. There is an immature Trickster. But the Hero can also be is immature. The Hero comes at an early stage in human development. And it comes early in a man’s life. The teenage years, the early twenties, thirties.
We need to be, both individually and in the culture, in a post-heroic time. The mature Trickster is very interesting because he works on behalf of the community as a whole. He trips up authoritarian figures, the hierarchical types who would like to be King, who have something in them that wants to rule and control. I don’t consider that a mature feeling. It’s something many of us have, and it can be life enhancing. It can have many positive aspects to it. But ultimately there is something, when you move beyond this, which has to do with genuine equality. The genuine Elder. The genuine Crone for a woman. But this Elder isn’t into commanding. The King commands. The elder has mastery but he tends to evoke it in a different way.
Bert: As I talk with you I see another dimension I hadn’t seen before. I’m not so sure that if the Magician means the master of high technology, rather than the shaman, that the Magician is the mature role and the Trickster is the immature role.
Shepherd: Science and technology are primary problems in the world today. When people criticize men for what we have done to the Earth, often what they are seeing is the effect of industrialism, with pesticides, herbicides, agribusiness, and the denigration of the Earth when we moved from being hunter/gatherer societies to agrarian-based societies and, eventually, industrial agriculture.
Three recent books document what I’m saying here – Chellis Glendinning’s My Name is Chellis, and I’m Recovering from Western Civilization, Jed Diamond’s The Warrior’s Journey Home, and Jerry Mander’s In the Absence of the Sacred. All three of these writers have a strong criticism of technology.
It’s not a question of good versus bad technology. It’s a question of technology versus indigenous wisdom, the kind of wisdom which is nature based. I don’t think we can take away technology. What happens, though, is that technology creates problems. It then promises that it will solve these problems with more advanced and higher technology. But in fact what happens is the Earth gets further polluted, further damaged. We are on a collision course right now. We are threatening to destroy the Earth. The most important single thing that the men’s work can do now, as far as I’m concerned, is to make alliances with environmental work and ecological work. Father/son work and other personal work is important and must continue, but we also need to mature beyond this work.
At the Redwood Men’s Center we’re refocusing work to support the environment, to engage in activity on behalf of the Earth. It isn’t as popular, and we won’t necessarily have the cathartic kinds of response for men that earlier work on the fathers had, but it’s important work.
Bert: Where do you see Men’s Work going?
Shepherd: Our movement has the chance to deepen and mature, now that we have been defeated by the mass media. John Stewart Mill says that every successful mass movement has three stages: The first stage is ridicule. The second is discussion. The third is acceptance. That happened with the anti-slavery movement, and slavery was ended. It happened with the suffragettes, and women got the right to vote.
The men’s movement is stalled in the stage of ridicule. We deserve it. With all this talk about warriors and kings, we have contributed to our fall as a mass movement. The powers that be have basically liquidated the mass quality of our movement.
But individual men and groups and geographical areas which are strong – like Portland, Seattle, and the Bay Area – continue as men meet in regular face-to-face relationships. It might even be that this demise as a mass movement can strengthen us in our capacity to do our work. It does mean that the cultural change part of our work is impeded. But it can also make us look inside – to look at what we did wrong. What did we do that contributed to our downfall? How could we not make those mistakes again?
Bert: What, in your opinion, are some of the major things that went wrong?
Shepherd: Robert Bly, Michael Meade and James Hillman, wonderful men that they are, represent traditional masculinity.
Bert: A traditional masculinity?
Shepherd: They tell basically traditional stories. They represent old values.There’s a lot of beauty, dignity, and strength in those values, but they’re all tough. I’ve seen all three of them mature in the midst of not only how they contributed to the men’s movement but in how the men’s movement contributed to them. They’re all more tender than they used to be.
We need a new story, which emerges from the old story. I’m not offering an answer to you. It needs to be part of our teaching to men. I don’t know what the next step is.One of the things I really like about Michael Meade is his important multi-cultural work these days.
The men’s movement is hierarchically based. We’re too based on stars. I don’t blame it on Robert Bly. I blame it on us. Robert is an exceptionally skilled and talented man. I go to hear him read poetry every chance I get. But we gave him too much authority and power. This contrasts to the women’s movement, which is polytheistic, polycentric, many centered. The mythopoetic men’s movement was too organized around Robert and his chosen elite, the people he was drawn to.
Our society runs on the Great Man theory rather than on a more egalitarian, democratic way. But we’ve failed as a movement. We really didn’t get to an Elder’s Council, or a democratic movement. Robert Bly’s personality stamps it too much. Bly’s particular strengths and weaknesses over-influenced the movement. Now I want to be very clear. I’m not blaming him for this. I think the problem has been in us as Americans. We lack a certain tribal quality — the kind of indigenous quality of community empowerment.
We need new voices in Men’s Work. We were just talking about David Whyte. I like his kind of understatement. I’ve only done one workshop with him a few years ago. I love his voice, but he’s not a super charismatic performer like Angeles Arien was when they recently did something together. But I like the voices of Alan Chinen, David Whyte, Jean Shinoda Bolen. They have a reflective, sure quality to it. Is that your experience with David?
Bert: He’s not that quiet. When he begins to speak he’s rather forceful and commanding with his words. He does not put his words out with hesitancy. It’s low key and low energy, his way of conveying those forceful words. And he doesn’t have charisma in that fiery sense. But when he begins to speak the audience generally becomes very quiet so that they hear all of his words. He’s captivating in that sense. He weaves a spell for the audience. It’s not charismatic. It’s a different kind of spell that he weaves. He weaves a poet’s spell even in his prose.
Shepherd: I like what you’re saying. That’s the kind of leadership that I respond to – that I’m comfortable with – right now. I think we need it at this time. I think the men’s movement can benefit from people like him who are on the periphery.
One of the things that’s really good about the men’s movement is these ongoing little groups of 6 to 8 men. I know some that have been meeting for twenty years. That’s the essence of Men’s Work. That’s the heart of men’s work.
Bert: There are gatherings, big events, and there are wisdom councils like we have up here, with 200 men gathering once a month. These are the showcase. Hopefully those are vehicles by which people will become involved in a small intimate group on the grass roots level.
Shepherd: To me, events like the Mendocino Men’s Conference are not what’s most important. It’s those little groups, most of which we never hear about. But what gets the attention and the publicity is the Mendocino conference. Mendocino gets overrated by those of us who went.
I think it’s important to stay local and not to turn to national people. That doesn’t mean important things can’t be done by bringing people in from outside and listening to them. But there needs to be local metaphors, local issues. There is a distinctly Boston character, a distinctly West Coast character. Every group must have its regional quality, its particular spice, particular soul. It’s important to be responsive to the historical moment and to be in present time and as much as possible to be diverse. To recognize the pains of others. To listen to them.
Bert: What about the inner work/outer work focus. So much of the mythopoetic is in doing the inner work of men getting in touch with their feelings and what’s going on with them. I was just reading the introduction to Sam Keen, in his new book on spirituality, Hymms to an Unknown God, quotes Bill Moyers to the effect that every journalist now says the question of the day is where are we on our spiritual journey?
Shepherd: I think you’re right, Bert. The men’s movement is a religious movement. “Religious” rather than just “spiritual” because it has an organized quality. It’s the inner life in community with others, which is religion – as you know, the word comes from “binding together”. So it has a community element to it. That has drawn me to the men’s movement.
I’d also like to talk about the “backlash.” So far, I’ve been speaking from a mythopoetic viewpoint. I think feminist men have made another set of mistakes by being so angry at men — and the men’s rights people by being so angry at women.
One of the many good things that Michael Meade did was to talk about men’s movements – plural rather than singular. There are, in my opinion, at least three distinct movements: the mythopoetic, men’s rights, and the feminist men. We should have dialog with all of these movements. There has been too much infighting. There hasn’t been enough looking at each other and working together.
Bert: Sometimes there does not seen any way to dialog with the men’s rights side. They are so adamant. They’re so political. Frequently this attack on women is connected with right wing politics. A lot of their rhetoric is bombastic. So I don’t see either Men’s Work or healing between the genders coming out of the men’s rights side.
Shepherd: I agree. Let me talk to the two groups that I see as dangerous: Warren Farrell’s work and the Promise Keepers.
Bert: In what respect do you think that Warren Farrell’s work is dangerous?
Shepherd: Farrell really was hurt by women, by being in the National Organization of Women. He has been fighting back ever since. I don’t trust him. He does represent a certain constituency. But it’s not a constituency which wants to listen or work with other men. It wants to control. Warren is a charismatic leader. He’s handsome, articulate. But I really see the dangers in these charismatic leaders. They’re not really group-based. It’s a leader/follower relationship.
Let me get to the Promise Keepers, because of the things that Susan Faludi and others have criticized us for. The mythopoetic movement is not a backlash. It is not a reaction to the women’s movement. It responds more to economic reality – men’s lives in sexist society in terms of how we are disadvantaged by dying seven years younger than women. Men’s movements are authentic and genuine attempts to deal with this issue. They are not a backlash.
The Promise Keepers is the group, started by a football coach, who have been gathering 50,000 at a time in a stadium in Boulder, Colorado, and now in other parts of the country.They stand for a return to family values, Christian fundamentalism, and homophobia. This is the real backlash. These Promise Keepers and the right wing Christians are a serious threat to the men’s movement and to democracy today. The Republicans had a massive landslide victory which I think is very dangerous in this country. Newt Gingrich is a potentially fascist man. I use that word carefully, because I lived in a fascist country, Chile. Even here in Sonoma County, which is relatively progressive and liberal, we have major victories at the school board, the board of supervisors, and in city councils, by right wing Christians who really do not believe in toleration. They do not believe in diversity. One of the elements of Men’s Work can be a call for diversity of sexual orientation, races, of creeds. A poly-centric view that I think is so important. Not monotheistic. We don’t all have to believe in a Christian god, the same Bible, the same fundamentals. We can be in a time in the twenty first century of expanding rather than shrinking our toleration of differences.
There’s a dangerous, angry mood in the country today. The people who brought to power these right wingers were white males. The largest gender gap ever in history occurred in this election. Women were much more progressive in their voting. There does seem to be a backlash of white males who are reacting to some of the gains of women. Some men are feeling a lot of fear today, in terms of work, in terms of changing family structures. But these are not the mythopoetic men.
I don’t fall in line behind all these so-called “family values.” They’re often homophobic. They’re often a way of putting down single men. I don’t think because a man is a father that he’s any better than any other man. The Republicans are thinking of giving a big tax break to children. I think we should give a tax break to people who don’t have children. The biggest problem in the world today is over-population. We don’t need more incentives to have children.
America consumes by far the greatest percentage of unrenewable resources in the Earth, particularly fossil fuels. We’re very dominating, very controlling of nature. Humans have become thieves. I live in the Cunningham Marsh. Developers want to come in here and take the homes of salamanders, fresh water shrimp, and owls and put six human homes in what today is thousands of homes for wildlife. This march of technology, of development into the marsh which provides habitat for wildlife, is messing this whole beautiful place up.
We need to return to the cooperative masculinity that men used to harvest food, raise barns, and volunteer to fight fires together. We lost that and replaced it with a competitive technological masculinity. The problem is not masculinity; it’s technological masculinity. We as men need to take our economic and political privilege, admit that we have it, and use it to do good.
Now let me talk about another issue, that is very much on my soul these days: the mother in South Carolina who killed her two babies. It was very upsetting to me. I was very angry with her. What made me angry was that some people tried to blame her boyfriend because he wrote her a letter saying that he didn’t want to be with her. People can’t get it straight, can’t accept that the majority of infanticide is done by women, not men. 55% of the parents who kill children are female. The majority of child abuse is not done by men, it’s done by women. Now, I’m not blaming women for that. In a sexist society women are at home with the children more often, so they get angrier. But what backs me up against the wall is the self-righteousness of women who blame men for all the abuse. Women who kill their husbands use the defense that they are battered, therefore they have a right to kill their husband. But it’s not right. I was in a discussion recently with some ultra-feminist women in a public panel in a book reading. I got this victim stuff, that we should have compassion for this mother who killed her children. But there was no compassion in this woman for men who are battered. This society systematically batters men. When anybody kills we need to protect society from those people – be they male or female. We need to understand why men and women do this, but we need not to defend the behavior. It’s unethical, morally incorrect behavior. We should speak out against any kind of violence – be it against men, women, children, plants, animals, or the Earth itself.
Men need to unite with women. I want allies among women who will come out and admit the violence that exists in women, the scapegoating of the masculine that occurs, the projecting of women’s violence onto men. What bothers me is that men are the activists on the front line doing the work that kills us seven years younger. Fighting in the wars.And we get blamed for it. But it’s really a collusion between men and women in this sexist system — that keeps the whole thing going.
Bert: Did you see Carolyn Baker’s article, “Confessions of a Recovering Feminist”? We ran her article on the shadow side of feminism. (December, 1994 issue.) What she says is that women and feminists need to get in touch with the shadow side of feminism first.
Shepherd: Yes.Carolyn is an ally to men. There needs to be a priority upon gender reconciliation. Part of the women’s movement is very receptive towards men. You see it in the work of Aaron Kipnis and Liz Herron, for example. (authors of Gender War, Gender Peace. A three-part interview with them is in our July, August and September, 1994 issues.) Gender reconciliation is very important work. Carolyn and I have spent the last few years in a gender reconciliation group. She understands men’s pain, and is part of this new wave of women. Too often we get into a good woman/bad man dualism; we need to see the dark side of women and the light side of men. Being in dialog with women such as Carolyn is important.
I was very disturbed after reading in your last issue the excellent article by James Smethurst on Naomi Wolf. When asked if she would have her baby circumsized, she joked, “No, I’ll have him castrated.” It was important that he pointed out the contradictions in what she writes, which is more advanced than what she said in person. The joking about castration was inexcusable. It is important that he call her to task on that and that he stand up for us as men.
Circumcision is a key issue. Men need to address it. I’m glad he’s doing that. And I’m glad you’re publishing articles on it. I remember my circumcision as an infant. It was the most painful thing that ever happened in my life. I’ve been hit. I’ve been shot at. All kinds of stuff. But nothing hurt me as much as that. So I think we do need to speak up on these issues.
Bert: In an editorial for the December, 1994 issue I cited you as raising the question whether the mythopoetic men’s movement is dead. The vision that I’m having is grow or die. And I don’t know how we’re going to get more cultural diversity or more outreach — outfocus into the community. But we have to.
Shepherd: Well, I have some ideas on that. Next weekend we’re showing a film called The Color of Fear (ed. – reviewed in our last issue), made by an Asian American. It’s a video about a men’s group that actually shows an anglo man change his ideas about race. It’s a very emotional film which we’re using to stimulate dialog around racism and multi-cultural work.
There is a part of me that is embarrassed and shamed to be a Californian given proposition 187. It is a racist anti-human proposition. The so-called illegal aliens are human beings who work very hard, and help hold up the agriculture of this state and of the nation. They work for four or five dollars an hour. I can assure you that they give more than they take.
We’re watching a rise in racism now. My partner is Japanese American. There is a tremendous rise in anti-Japanese sentiment. There’s a lot of anti-Arab sentiment. This can be mobilized by right wing Christians.
I also think that it is important that men continue to work on homophobia, that we continue to advance a biodiverse human community. Anybody who does not have close gay men friends is impoverished. Any man who does not have close lesbian friends is limited. Humans seem to be made by the Creator in various heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, racial components.
Any system, we know from ecology, is strong if it’s diverse. It’s weak when the gene pool becomes restricted, when there’s inbreeding. When a man is courageous enough to speak up about the need for diversity, he deserves all the support that we can give him.
Bert: I’ve heard it said that if men of color don’t think there are enough men of color at Wisdom Councils and monthly gatherings, that these men of color should go out and bring in people of diversity.
Shepherd: I think it’s the role of the dominating group to do that. You don’t throw it back to the minority. It’s incumbent upon anglos to bring in people of diversity. It’s done partly through friendship. If there are not men of color at a men’s gathering, the men need to look at their racism. In my opinion it is strongly our responsibility, those of us who benefit from this white skin privilege, to be open to men of color. In this way, Alan Chinen is important because he is a Japanese American man.
Bert: Some might question whether he has suffered from it. It’s possible to see him as someone who has played the game by society’s rules and become a very successful psychotherapist and a leading edge scholar.
Shepherd: Well, let me tell you how he suffered. It really struck me because when you look at Alan, he does appear to be a very successful man.His name, Chinen, is not obviously an Asian name. He’s told stories of clients coming to him and discovering that he’s Japanese American and being surprised and disappointed. He said no anglo has ever come to him, found that he is Japanese, and honored and appreciated that. It strikes me as very racist for people to to come in and not get the white person that they expected, and to walk away, to act in a way that is disrespectful.
Even though Asian Americans do not have the financial poverty that African Americans do there is definitely racism against them. It contributed in part to the crime of Hiroshima-Nagasaki, which were irresponsible, unnecessary taking of life. The atomic bomb would never have been used by America against an anglo people, even though obviously Hitler and Germany were the real threats.Japanese Americans on the West Coast lost their land with 48 hours notice even though they were AmericansThey’re just as American as anybody with a white face. Alan is as fully American as anybody. One of the strengths of America is its diversity.
This last election should make us all do some soul searching now about this mood of anger and resentment in America today. And how to deal with it in a healthy way. The men’s movement needs to be responsive because of these Promise Keepers, these right wing Christian men who believe in the family and don’t believe in gayness as natural.
You ask about where is the men’s movement going? It does need to mature from the inner work to the outer work while continuing to do the inner work. But we need, in part, to be protectors. The male role of protecting can be a good role. I recently saw a film about Hitler’s Czechoslovakia where there were the so-called “White Jews” who helped protect Jews. Christian monks would hide them. We need to be responsive to the people of our society who are oppressed because of sexual orientation or race. Here in California the Mexican people need to be supported by anglo people.
This historic male role of the Protector, which when taken in excess could be a problem, is a positive image. The Protector, the Husbandman. The men who till the Earth, take care of the Earth, not as nurturers but as generators. There’s that regenerating quality. I make a distinction between the nurturing that women do and generating that men do.
We need to think about biodiversity in human-kind. We think about it mainly in terms of wildlife and nature. But humans are a part of nature. We need to apply some of the thinking in the environmental circles to Men’s Work and some of the thinking in Men’s Work to environmental circles. For example, some of us here from the Redwood Men’s Center are thinking of going to an environmental meeting in masks. We would take on speaking for the whales, the salmon, the oak, and the douglas fir, and the redwoods. There’s something positive about the zany quality of our men’s gatherings up in Mendocino that really goes to the edge. I’d like us to bring that more into the mass culture and environmental awareness. We as men both individually and in our movement have a lot to offer to our society as a whole.
Have you noticed everyone attempting to nail down the one true definition of masculinity? Its a bit like arguing which is the One True God. Likewise, with every earnestly researched and precisely crafted definition of masculinity, a broad acceptance of any single definition seems out of reach.
If you have an hour to waste on the internet you can discover hundreds of competing definitions of masculinity, each one vastly different, which raises the question of why we can’t agree on a singular, universal statement. Why the ongoing lack of agreement, even within the men’s movement which sets out to champion that very topic of “men” and “masculinity”?
There’s no doubting that underlying physiological structures are shared among all males, the base unity of masculine potentials: a Y chromosome, androgens, muscles and penises. But this tells us little about how individual men will behave in the real world – and behave individually, and variably, they certainly do.
Defining masculinity appears doomed because we tend to rely on singular expressions of it – and singular definitions likewise follow; “masculinity is to be interested in things, not faces” “masculinity is striving for status,” “masculinity is to be more rational and less emotional” (etc.). Are some men like this? sure. Are all men like that? Hell no – far from it. And, naturally, in response to such monocentric definitions the disagreements come lightening fast, with detractors claiming that masculinity is something far more, or something other, than the reductive definition offered.
When we seek singular stereotypes (whether they be based on some example of a traditional male social role, or on some author’s view such as “the way of men,” on singular evopsyche fantasies, or on singular fixations on testosterone as the whole picture) – in such mono-models we will never feel settled on the question of masculinity because there are too many outliers from whatever singular definition we’ve chosen.
Obviously masculinity is more than one thing – more than testosterone, more than intelligence, more than muscle mass, more than status-seeking, and more than a powerful urge to have sex and reproduce. Its more than the sum total of these things, and individual men’s expression of them will widely vary. On that basis a plural understanding of masculinity appears to be the only way to save the concept, though I don’t for a second subscribe to feminist ideas of ‘masculinities’ with their convoluted and unscientific hierarchies of “good” and “bad” instances of masculinity.
Viewing masculinity as plural can be as simple as returning to ancient Greek culture, or to any other classical culture, or even Bible-based cultures for that matter in which varieties of masculine styles are showcased. The Greeks for example had many gods, each expressing a different archetypal face of masculinity. Those expressions ranged from effeminate Dionysus to macho Ares, from instinctual Pan to the ordered and intellectual God Apollo. There is Zeus and his concerns for leadership and hierarchy, and Hephaestus with his labor consciousness, and so on and so forth.
Instances of masculinity, never all seen together in one character, each god or man tending to specialise in one way or another.
It might be argued that because feminists have seized the term masculinities and subsequently twisted the concept into perverted, misandric typologies, that we should shy away from plurality and stick instead with the traditional idea of a masculine singularity – a kind of Vitruvian man who displays all masculine behaviours at once. That’ll teach those femmos!
But this defensive retreat from feminist dominance over the gender discussion is a needless one that throws out the baby with the bathwater. That retreat avoids forthright celebration of male plurality and leads not to better understanding of various masculine dimensions of behaviour, but rather to singular and often reductive definitions that few man can relate to. Furthermore, insisting (as some have) that many expressions of masculinity can be accounted for within a singular definition of masculinity hasn’t helped to provide an agreed definition thus far, so why would we believe it can do so in future? Fighting over the One True Definition rages on.
Nailing down a singular definition of masculinity that everyone will agree with reminds increasingly of Sisyphus rolling his boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down to the bottom before he starts rolling a new definition up the hill – over and over ad infinitum. Isn’t the definition of insanity that of repeating the same process over and over but expecting a different outcome?
This is why personally I’m an advocate of classical models over modern monocentric ones – people relate to them, and tend to agree with them.
Feminists can never own the concept of masculine variety, even if they have seized on the plural masculinities. Ironically, their attacks on masculinity tend to be one-dimensional caricatures, and when they do get around to exploring plurality of male expression, they tend to make value hierarchies out of the different masculinities, dividing them into good and evil according to arbitrary misandric criteria. For example the more typically effeminate male = good, and the less typically effeminate = bad. This is why their attempt at a plurality of masculinities is junk science and why we men are turned off from celebrating our very real diversity – ie. even though its a fact of life, it has been poisoned with needless ideology.
The word masculinities has been around for at least a few hundred years, referring in the 1800s to any behaviors deemed a departure from the narrowly assigned gender roles of the day, or alternatively to any male behaviors considered inappropriate for polite society. Feminist activists from the gender studies world revived the word during the 1980s and 1990s, basically reaffirming the practice of deeming some masculinities toxic (eg. “hegemonic masculinities” – R. Connell)1 and others as non-toxic.
One academic, Eric Anderson, who was embedded in the scene during that period of “problematizing” masculinity, broke ranks with the obsessive pathologizing narratives and emphasised rather that men of different styles can and are forming what he calls “inclusive masculinities.”2 This approach admits that men are more accepting, or at minimum more tolerant of differences than we were led to believe by the misandric character assassins Robert Connell, Michael Messner or Michael Kimmel et.al who portrayed the vast majority of men as ruthlessly intolerant.
This approach, celebrating masculine variety, is not new to readers here. In fact A Voice for Men has honoured the very plurality I’m describing, and it has done so consistently for over a decade. Men, strong and weak, stoic or sensitive, physical or intellectual, gay, straight or transgender….. we’ve demonstrated inclusive masculinity from the outset. This article serves as a reminder of the importance of those values, while introducing the concept of masculine variety to new readers.
When it comes to terminology, we need not rest only on the loaded term masculinities. Well before Connell and his henchpersons began to discriminate and denigrate so many examples of masculinity, the Jungian and archetypal psychologists already viewed men in terms of masculine variety, and they didn’t apply any of the familiar pathologizing narratives – they simply referred to them as male archetypes. For example, the Archetypal Psychologist Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig wrote the following statement in the year 1976, which is long before sociology got onboard with its plurality of masculinities:
“It should be clear that there is not only one masculine archetype and one feminine archetype. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of feminine and masculine archetypes. Certainly there are many more of them than we usually imagine. But not all archetypes are dominant at a particular period in the life of an individual. Moreover, every historical epoch has its dominant masculine and feminine archetypes. Women and men are determined in their sexual identities and behavior by only a select number of archetypes.
Behavior is determined only by those patterns that are momentarily dominant in the collective psyche. This leads to a grotesque but understandable error: the archetypes that dominate masculine and feminine behavior in a particular time come to be understood as the masculine and feminine archetypes. And from this limited number of archetypes it is decided what “masculinity” and “femininity” are. This misunderstanding has led, for example, to the assumption in Jungian psychology that masculinity is identical with Logos, and femininity with Eros. It is assumed that the essence of femininity is personal, related to one’s fellow man, passive, masochistic, and that the essence of masculinity is abstract, intellectual, aggressive, sadistic, active, etc. This naïve assertion could have been made only because the masculine and feminine archetypes that were dominant at that time and in that culture were understood as the only valid ones.”3
A contrast between feminist and archetypalist views is that the latter admits that archetypal styles arise from biology even if they are socially manipulated; that they are not socially conferred onto ‘blank slates’ by society, as some sociologists might view it. Our biology-based archetypes may lay dormant if not facilitated by culture, or they may arise at certain stages and phases of life, and of course we are each born with our peculiar masculine predilections, or style, that may not be the lot of the next man. Despite that complexity, biology remains a fundamental factor in the theory of archetypes – and yes, environment remains important too.
While the mythopoetry movement of the 1980-90s emphasised singular masculine archetypes, such as Robert Bly’s Wild Man,4 the movement also tended to follow the Jungian tradition of honouring a variety of male archetypes and expressions. For those who are new to the men’s movement, it might be worth studying this aspect of the mythopoetic tradition to help you avoid the pitfalls of an overly singular view of masculinity.
So to finish this article, let me leave you with a playful overview of male archetypes in Greek Myth, compiled by archetypalist Greta Aurora. While her descriptions of various male archetypes are not the last word on any of the characters mentioned, they do provide an example of seeing males in their individuality.
Ultimately its a personal choice whether to see masculinity as one or many, or as both, but in my experience an overemphasis on ‘the one’ tends always to swallow the many, and in the process we lose too much.
 Connell, R., Hegemonic masculinities (Wikipedia)  Anderson, E., Inclusive Masculinities (2009)  Guggenbühl-Craig, A., Marriage Is Dead – Long Live Marriage! (1976)  Bly, R., Iron John: A Book About Men (1990)